While Lina Palethorpe was undergoing surgery in Toronto undergoing surgery recently to remove most of the cancerous tumour that was lodged next to her spine, her friends in Squamish were busy marshalling another fund- and awareness-raising campaign to support the 22-month-old and her family.
September is, after all, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Canada and given Lina’s condition, it seemed to Paula Mendes, Julie Miller and their legions of “Team Lina” supporters that such a campaign was very much in order.
Lina, though, isn’t the only young Squamish resident who, along with her family, has stood face to face with the various forms of cancer in recent months.
In June, Theo Lazaridis, who will be three in November, was deemed to be in remission after having been diagnosed last December with an aggressive form of leukemia. Likewise, Jasmine Blake, the five-year-old who went to Boston in the spring to undergo leading-edge proton treatment for a brain tumour, has had a relatively calm summer at home with her family, but is not out of the woods yet.
“The cancer is gone for the moment but it can come back at any time,” Jasmine’s father Rick Blake told The Chief last Friday (Sept. 14). “Although we have a healthy little girl right now, we are aware that it could come back. It’s definitely an adjustment.
“The effects of having cancer in your family, in one of your children, can be devastating. Lisa [Jasmine’s mother] and I are constantly trying to adjust to what we’re calling the new normal.”
Posters for the gold-ribbon campaign being spearheaded by Miller, Mendes and others urges would-be-participants to “Wear gold for Lina.” The gold ribbons — originally created by Miller — are being distributed to various businesses around town. Supporters are urged to purchase the ribbons for a suggested donation of $1 and wear them to show their support.
Mendes said those involved in the campaign to support Lina are aware that she’s just one of three Squamish youngsters whose families have faced similar challenges. While the money from the purchase of the ribbons will support the Palethorpe family, there’s certainly a lot of spillover on the education and awareness side, she said.
Doctors told the Palethorpe family after Lina’s surgery on Sept. 6 that they believed they removed about 95 per cent of the cancer, her mom Kati Palethorpe told The Chief during a phone conversation from Toronto last Friday.
The family, who brought Lina home on the weekend, is now awaiting results of the post-surgery pathology to find out what the next treatment steps will be, she said.
“She’s never had so little disease as now — so we’re feeling quite positive about that,” Kati Palethorpe said. “But she’s basically never had an immune system, because at six weeks she was diagnosed with the tumour and she was fighting that. So it will take a long time for her to build that up.
“We’re relieved that this surgery went well. This surgery could have put her in a wheelchair, but that hasn’t happened. She’ll have long-term effects from this surgery her whole life — she might need spinal supports or more surgeries on her spine… a lot will depend on how she takes to this.”
Kati Palethorpe said she and her family are incredibly grateful for the support they have and continue to receive.
“When I heard what my friends are doing… it’s just a dream,” she said. “That people are aware now, the whole town — wow. It’s just huge to know we have that kind of support.”
Rick Blake echoed those sentiments.
“It feels as though the whole community is behind us. [Jasmine] has kids come up at school and say, ‘Hi Jasmine.’ So it’s nice to know that we’re supported.
“We wouldn’t have gotten through this so well if we’d lived in Burnaby or Vancouver or elsewhere. We just really, really feel well supported here in Squamish.”
Laura Lazaridis, Theo’s mother, said the Lazaridises hope to get some of the “Team Lina” ribbons to distribute themselves.
“We follow each other’s progress,” she said of the Blakes and Palethorpes. “Any childhood cancer, of course — I mean, no child should have to go through that. We do have a little bit of a bond.”
Theo still has to go to B.C. Children’s Hospital oncology department once a month to do a full blood workup and will likely have to continue doing so regularly until he’s at least 18. Laura Lazaridis said that in addition to the support Theo’s family has received from the community, his family continues to draw strength from the youngster’s spirit and apparent unwavering resolve to get through it all.
“He’s amazing,” Lazaridis said. “Even now when I say we have to go to the hospital today to do your blood work, I expect him to not want to go, but he’s always fine with it because they’re just so great with him there.”
Gold ribbons are available by donation at Body Storm, The Cup, Fetish Shoes, Kaos Kids, Kitchen Quickies, Mish Mash, Nesters Market, Scotties Liquor Store, Sky High Lifestyles and the Squamish Adventure Centre. For information, visit the “Team Lina” page on Facebook.